About half of the 2 billion prescriptions filled each year aren't taken correctly, according to the National Council on Patient Information and Education. As a result, many Americans are putting their health and lives at risk.
"Taking medication as prescribed is important to properly managing your health; an extra, missed or wrong dosage can be dangerous," says Denise Park, Ph.D., professor of psychology and director of the Roybal Center on Aging and Cognition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Dr. Park offers these suggestions for personalizing your pill-taking routine so that taking the right medication at the right time becomes automatic.
If you have more than two medications to manage, consider getting a pill organizer—a special container marked with the days of the week. Besides housing multiple medications, a compartmentalized organizer can be useful for keeping track of the medications you've taken.
"Many people can't remember if they took their pill or if they simply thought about taking it, so they skip dosages or take too many pills," says Dr. Park.
But by using an organizer, you can simply check to see if the pill is missing from that day's bin. Still, if you use an organizer, be sure to label each bin with the name of the medication and other relevant information so you consistently load the organizer correctly.
If you have trouble remembering to take your medications, you'll need to develop cues that remind you, perhaps in addition to using an organizer.
For example, if you're at a computer all day, you could program it to beep when it's time to take certain doses. If you're more mobile, consider investing in a triathlon wristwatch, which can be set to sound reminder alarms.
Programming your personal digital assistant, if you have one, also is an excellent option because not only does it sound an alarm, it displays text messages, such as, "Take your heart pill now."
You also can purchase pill caps that beep or sound an alarm when you need to take the medications. After you replace the pill cap, the timer is automatically reset for the next time. Other devices allow you to record your own voice as a reminder; the device then plays your recording at the time you need to take your medication.
If your problem is remembering to take your medications in the morning or at night, train yourself to remember to do it by placing them in strategic locations.
"If you have orange juice every morning, for example, put your medications on the breakfast table and consciously try to take your pills every morning when you drink your juice," says Dr. Park.
A surprisingly effective, low-tech option is to make a checklist of all your medications and the time and day you need to take them, then put it on your refrigerator or another prominent place.
"You simply make a check mark every time you take your medication," says Dr. Park. "Consider it your medication to-do list."
For a person who is not able to remember to take his or her medications because of Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia, a caregiver must assume the responsibility. The caregiver could use some of the same methods above—pill organizers or pill reminders—to help keep track of medications needed.
© 2013 Main Line Health